Saturday, 6 August 2011

Eating Out: How To Eat Mussels

This post is dedicated to my favourite food of all time: mussels. I love them cooked french style with white wine and onions, or with tomato sauce and chorizo sausage, Thai style grilled with lemon grass and even on pizza. Because I have talked about my love for mussels so much already on my blog, I have been asked to write a post on how to eat mussels and avoid getting sick, and I've decided to throw in some tips on the best way to eat them too. When I first moved to the Brittany region of France, where mussels are somewhat of a local speciality, I was too scared to touch them. Why? My Dad always told me they were awful, because he had a really bad one in Jersey on my parents honeymoon. And I believed him, mainly because they looked funny. 
About two years ago when my friend Kathryn persuaded me to try one of hers. I loved it, and I've been hooked every since.  Since trying mussels, I've been a lot more adventurous with seafood, and if it was not for Kathryn making me try them in the first place I would not have discovered my other love for baby squid! 

How to avoid eating a bad one.

Eating food that has gone bad is never good, but when it comes to seafood eating a bad one can make you very, very sick. Usually, in any good restaurant where they know what they're doing your food should be okay. When you're going to cook mussels, uncooked they should all be closed. Any that are cracked or chipped are already dead and will have gone bad. The same with open ones. Mussels should open as they cook to release their tasty centre. When confronted with a bowl of them in a restaurant, though they are sometimes still okay, if a mussel is still closed after cooking there is a good chance it has gone bad because it was already dead before cooking. Discard it and move on, don't try and pry it open to eat it whatever you do! Also, if a mussel looks funny or different to the rest of them in the bowl, discard that one also. Better to be safe than sorry!

The proper way of eating them (French Style).

I was sitting outside Cafe Rouge one evening in August with a plate of mussels and my best friend picked up a fork to try some. I snapped at him, and told him he was not allowed to eat any if he did not eat them properly. Sit yourself down in a French seaside restaurant somewhere like Cancal or St Malo, and you will not see a single French person using a fork. They all eat with the shells. 

  1. Find yourself a big empty shell that is not broken and is a good shape to hold onto (or use the technique to remove the meat from a perfect shell). This will be your eating implement. 
  2. Hold the empty shell between your thumb and forfinger so you can open and close it in a pincer motion. 
  3. Use the shell to grip onto and gently pull the orange meat out of another shell. 
  4. Eat the piece of mussel from the shell as you would if your eating shell was a fork.
  5. Enjoy! (And make sure to look round smugly at the rest of the people in your restaurant eating them with a fork!)
Tips: If you're given a proper mussel bowl with a big lid like the one in the picture above, the correct way is to discard your empty shells in the upturned lid then stack it back on top like the picture above when you have finished eating. Some other restaurants will serve your mussels to you in a bowl and give you another dish for your empty shells. If they don't give you one, ask for one!

Enjoy! Those of you who are mussel eaters, what is your favourite way you like them cooked. The rest of you, have you tried them before? if not, why not?


  1. Mussels are one of my favourite foods too! I buy the vacuum packs in the supermarket for lunch/dinner all the time, but nothing beats eating them in a restaurant by the sea.

  2. I'm not a seafood fan at all and have always shyed away from tried mussels, I'm intrigued now as you made eating them sound so chic- I want to be sat in a little French resturant by the sea tucking in!xx

  3. I LOVE mussels, my parents made me try them when I was about 9 years old when we went on a weekend away in Dublin and I've been hooked ever since. I've never eaten them using the shell though - I will have to give that a go. My favourite place to eat them is BELGO in Covent Garden, I love that restaurant so much, and for my non-mussel-loving boyfriend there's so many other amazing food options for him to choose from :) I tend to choose moules mariniere, but have had them in a tomato-y sauce which was lovely too! :) x

  4. Thank you for this! I love fish, and shellfish, but what was stopping me from eating mussles was the fact that if you eat a bad one, you will get ill! I'm definitely going to try them soon :) It's good to know the proper way to eat them as well, as otherwise I'd just dive in with a fork! xx
    Sirens and Bells

  5. MmMm this dish is probably one of my very favorites. There's this french cafe in NYC that serves my favorite...sooooOoo GOOD. I literally drink up the sauce afterwards...:)

    xx THE CHEAP

  6. Don't you just eat each mussel like a new spoon each time, scooping up the stock with your mussel and guzzling away, then discarding the shell?

  7. @ Laura - Thanks for the recommendation -I'll check it out next time I'm in Covent Garden!

    @ Rai - Errm, no? You sometimes eat giant halves like that, but they are supposed to be grilled not cooked in stock...

  8. I've always been steadfast against seafood, well except tuna, but your story of moving from a hater to lover gives me hope to conquer my hesitation towards seafood. they seems like such an elegant dish and I like the "proper" way in which you eat them.

  9. My love of seafood stems from eating sushi at a very young age but my boyfriend never went near it until I gradually made him try new things! He's now as hooked on prawns, squid and mussels as me and I've been teaching him how to cook with them :)

    Also, mussels took away any qualms I had about trying oysters and boy am I glad I didn't pass them up!

  10. Yes, ONLY eat the way that other snooty or hyper-conformist people eat; it's necessary to enhance your social position. Really? Who thinks like this?

  11. There is something to be said for upholding tradition, and basic manners have nothing to do with social position. In the region of France I was referring to it would be considered an insult to the chef to be eating your mussels in any other fashion.

  12. I have never had it!!. They look delicious. I am a mussle eating virgin!